On Spotify’s homepage, one of the quotes they prominently use as an advertising blurb was written by my friend and old-Wired colleague, Eliot Van Buskirk, who once famously wrote that Spotify is “like a magical version of iTunes in which you’ve already bought every song in the world.”
They’re right to use it. It’s a great description. Spotify doesn’t have every song in the world — just 15 million, in fact — but boy does it feel like it. That’s not just because of Spotify’s huge library of licensed songs, though. It’s because Spotify seamlessly integrates into iTunes to supplement itself. It’s a true iTunes in the Cloud.
Why iTunes in the Cloud? Well, first of all, it looks a lot like iTunes, except in black instead of aluminum. It works like iTunes too. When you load up the Spotify and do a search for music, not only does it search through its own databases for songs available for streaming, it also does a local search on your machine in your iTunes library, as well as your Music and Downloads folder. That means that once Spotify is installed, iTunes becomes largely superfluous for music listening: Spotify does all of the heavy lifting, and can easily function as your default music player.
But what if you want to have some of your favorite songs in Spotify available locally for when you don’t have WiFi? No problem: Spotify allows you to keep any albums or tracks that you star available in local storage. You can specify in preferences how much storage you want to allow Spotify to have, but it defaults to 10% of available free space.
Once you’ve got a library of songs that have been starred, here comes another Spotify killer feature: you can sync them to your iOS device. All you need to do is open up the Spotify iOS app on your iPhone or iPad when it’s connected to the same WiFi network as the Spotify software on your Mac. You can select to sync some or all of your Spotify tracks, including individually by playlist.
Spotify’s music library is impressive. They’re launching in the United States with seemingly all the same deals in place as they have in Europe, meaning Spotify subscribers can choose to stream fifteen million tracks. That’s about six million tracks than Rdio, the streaming music subscription service I’ve been using up until now.
Even though Spotify has more tracks than Rdio, though, it seems like Rdio might have better deals with indie labels in place, with several recent indie albums not available on Spotify even as they are present on Rdio. For example, Seattle’s Subpop Records doesn’t seem to have a deal inked with Spotify, leaving several recent albums by Washed Out, The Handsome Furs and The Dum Dum Girls unavailable. For most people’s tastes, this probably isn’t a big deal, but it is disappointing: if you love indie music, you may actually want to wait on Spotify for now. Hopefully Spotify’s arrangement with indie labels will mature over time.
Ultimately, Spotify has three huge advantages over competing services like Rdio.
For one thing, Spotify is available for free, as long as you’re willing to listen to ads and max out your streaming to 10 hours per month. No other streaming music subscription service offers a free plan: it’s a huge win.
Second, Spotify’s audio quality just beats the pants off of the likes of Rdio. Rdio’s always been cagy about what bitrate they stream tracks in, only going on record as far to say that they stream at “CD Quality,” implying 192-256kbps. Spotify — especially with the “high quality streaming” option ticked — just sounds so much better and richer at 320kbps Ogg Vorbis.
Finally, there’s the apps. Although some might complain that Spotify is only available as a fat, downloadable client, with no web interface available, this is actually just a huge advantage over the competition. Spotify’s software is just excellent after having been polished over the years for the European market. Comparatively, the competition has just nothing that even comes close to the excellent of Spotify’s desktop software. Rdio’s Mac app, for example, runs in Flash. Puke.
The sore spot on the app front is there’s no native iPad app, which seems like a strange omission on Spotify’s part. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this gets remedied sooner rather than later.
One final thing to mention is that Spotify, unlike Ping, has some truly excellent social networking integration. It plugs into Facebook, meaning you can not only share music you like on your wall, but you are linked up automatically with other Facebook friends with Spotify accounts. You can see what albums and artists your buddies are listening to, share playlists with them, even send them songs to be downloaded automatically to their iOS devices.
What’s the verdict? Spotify is everything Europeans have been saying it is for years. There’s no reason even light music listeners shouldn’t sign up for at least a free account, and if you listen to enough music to want to take your Spotify library on the road, for the price of an album purchased off of iTunes every month, you can fill your iPhone or iPad with as many of Spotify’s fifteen million tracks as it can hold. If you listen to a lot of indie music, you’ll want to take Spotify for a free spin before you commit, but otherwise, Spotify is everything iTunes in the Cloud should be… and everything iTunes Match is not.